Kraut Maintains GCT Top Ranking, Spooner Finishes Sixth in Estoril

RELEASE: July 7, 2013

GCT Estoril (GCT Press Office)
GCT Estoril (GCT Press Office)
Estoril, Protugal
- There was joy and heartbreak tonight as Sweden’s Henrik von Eckermann seized his first Grand Prix win as Portuguese rider Luciana Diniz narrowly missed out on a home victory.

After one of the toughest Grand Prix of the season so far, in sizzling temperatures in Estoril, von Eckermann and Gotha came out on top with Scott Brash and Hello Sanctos the only other combination to jump three clear rounds.

The local crowd went wild with excitement in the jump off as Luciana Diniz and Winningmood cleared the course only to knock down a rail at the last fence leading to heartbreak for her and her fans. But there was compensation with third place and a promise to try again next year.

After the 7th leg of the championship series US rider Laura Kraut has stretched her overall ranking lead to 161 points - 13 points ahead of Christian Ahlmann. Following her podium place tonight Luciana Diniz has jumped two places up the ranking to 3rd position. Scott Brash’s points tonight have pushed him up to 11th place.

The dazzling combination of Richard Spooner and Cristallo, winner in Monaco last weekend, was on form again with a double clear but 4 faults in the jump off. Spooner is now in 10th position on the overall ranking. The other story of the night was the first Qatari rider to make it into a Grand Prix jump off.

As the temperatures subsided, the Longines Global Champions Tour of Estoril slowly began to form in the international arena. Riders slowly began to trickle into the international arena to walk the first round of the Grand Prix of Estoril. Frank Rothenberger had set a difficult track and it was clear that maximum height was not a suggestion, it was a reality.

Set big and wide, the first round demanded the riders to manage every stride, from start to finish. A clear round would not be easy. Qatar's Ali Al Rumaihi was first in the ring aboard his bay mare Ravenna 323. Qatar would not be able to earn a clear round with their first attempt but Faleh Suwead Al Ajami would earn the first clear round of the evening aboard the 12 year old Zangersheide gelding. Earning huge applause from his fellow team mates as well as Qatari trainer and coach, Jan Tops. Standing at the gate, Bassam Hassan Mohammed, Sheik Ali Khaled Al Thani and Jan Tops all applauded as Faleh left the ring, with a smile from ear to ear.

Riders followed but unfortunately so did their disappointed hopes as many faltered in the first double combination as well as the far line, stretching from fence six to the triple combination at fence seven. Many riders earned unfortunate faults at the beginning of the course while some would have difficulty with the final line; a short four strides coming off of a wide Swedish oxer.

These difficulties were clearly evident on course as talented riders such as Jessica Springsteen, Kamal Bahamdan, and Judy-Ann Melchior all faltered on course. However due to the small number of clears, some would return for the second round. Japan's Toshiki Masui, Emilie Martinsen and Alison Rowland all elected to retire after having difficulties early on.

The second clear round finally came from Sweden's Hendrik von Eckermann aboard Goldfever's prodigy, Gotha. Olympic winning gold medal combination, Scott Brash and Hello Sanctos earned the third clear of the evening, making the difficult track look rather easy. Despite his best attempts, Michael Whitaker and Viking would falter at the wide Longines oxer, following the open water obstacle.

Ludger Beerbaum and Chaman were unable to jump a clear first round however Nick Skelton and Big Star earned the second clear round for Great Britain. The World's number one ranked rider, Christian Ahlmann, adorning his leading ranked rider armband, jumped an elegant round aboard Taloubet Z while France's leading show jumping couple, Penelope Leprevost and Kevin Staut would both prove disappointed with frustrating scores.

Last week's winning duo in Monte Carlo, Richard Spooner and Cristallo, landed an expected clear round for the red, white and blue while William Funnell and Billy Congo earned the third clear for Great Britain. This combination have certainly made quite an impression over the last three events, landing in the top five in London, Cannes and Monaco.

Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum and Unbelievable jumped a rather unbelievable round for Germany while Laura Renwick unfortunately involuntarily dismounted at fence six, leaving the top British lady rider to leave the ring on foot. The Longines Global Champions Tour Season leading rider, Laura Kraut, jumped to 4 faults but within a fast enough time to ensure we would see her again in the second round.

Rolf-Goran Bengtsson and Quintero ASK qualified for the jump off while Luciana Diniz earned huge applause from the Portuguese crowd for a seamless first round execution aboard the lovely Winningmood. Despite his best attempts, Sergio Alvarez Moya and Carlo earned 4 faults by faltering at the second to last fence.

As the riders walked the second round, we all wondered, who would be able to come back in the second round and tackle the track with equal intensity to the first round. The top eighteen riders to return for the second round included the likes of Rolf-Goran Bengtsson, Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, Scott Brash and Richard Spooner. All riders well renowned for their ability to perform well under pressure.

The horses to jump clear in the second round would certainly require stamina and patience as they navigated themselves around the difficult course.

Ben Maher and Tripple X III were the first combination to compete in the second round however, the British combination earned 4 faults. Fellow British combination Michael Whitaker and Viking, winners in Madrid, earned 8 fault score. Certainly not the result Michael had been hoping for.

We waited through many combinations but none could deliver a clear round. Leading Longines Global Champions Tour season rider, Laura Kraut, delivered a glimpse of hope with a fast four faults. It was her fellow US rider and compatriot, Richard Spooner, who would deliver the first clear score of the second round. So it was clear, it would take experience, agility, patience and determination to earn a double clear this evening in Estoril.

Who would match Richard and Cristallo's double clear and join the Master of the Faster in a jump off?

Fellow California-born Meredith looked to have matched Richard's clear however a nasty time fault would stand between her and the jump off. Despite Christian Ahlmann's inability to deliver a double clear, Qatar's Faleh Suwead Al Ajami was clear aboard his agile gelding Zorro Z. It was not clear who was louder in their applause, the Portuguese crowd or Faleh's Qatari fellow team mates waiting at the in gate to congratulate their victor.

Disappointment would follow for Great Britain as William Funnell and Billy Congo earned a single time fault while Nick Skelton and Big Star knocked a single fence, the back rail of the wide Longines oxer coming out of the triple combination.

But the British would be re-born as Scott Brash and Hello Sanctos earned the third double clear of the evening. Scott, known for his ability to step up and deliver under intense pressure, certainly delivered strong hopes of a British win.

The hundreds of Portuguese fans cheered with passion as Luciana Diniz entered the ring with her elegant stallion Winningmood. The cheers quickly hushed to nothing but a whisper as tension grew with hopes of a Portuguese win. Sure enough, their hopes and prayers were answered as Luciana and Winningmood crossed the final fence with a clean score.

Lastly, Hendrik von Eckermann and Gotha executed a brilliant second round with clear intentions of earning the first Swedish victory on Portuguese soil. Five horses and five riders would return for an intense jump off that would determine the winner of the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Estoril.

Richard Spooner and Cristallo, first to go in the jump off, crossed the final oxer with a 4 fault score and moderate time of 38.93 seconds.

Faleh and Zorro Z entered the ring next for Qatar, but unfortunately earned 4 faults on course. There would be no Longines Global Champion Tour victory for Qatar this evening. Scott and Sanctos set a pace early on and it was clear, this combination were hungry for a win. Crossing the finish line with a time of 40.33 seconds, Scott and Sanctos went into the lead. Would they remain there?

Only two more riders remained and only two more riders had the opportunity to unseat the Scotsman and earn their first Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix title of the season. Luciana Diniz and Winningmood were flawless until the last fence, knocked down the final oxer earned huge moans of disappointment from the hopeful crowd.

Lastly, it was Sweden's Hendrik von Eckermann. The sole Swede of the LB Stables team, Hendrik raised both German and Swedish hopes of a possible victory. Standing at the in gate, Ludger Beerbaum and Philipp Weishaupt both waited in anticipation as Hendrik picked up his pace for the first fence.

Like that it was over, Hendrik attacked the jump off, using Gotha's natural speed to his advantage and taking every risk possible to increase his chances of a Longines victory. Sure enough, it paid off as he crossed the finish line in a time of 39.76 seconds. It was all over, Sweden had won on Portuguese soil and Hendrik had earned his first Longines Global Champions Tour title, ever!

Complete results are available here.